There are now so many portable speakers available that have Bluetooth, speakerphone capabilities, really good sound for their size, and decent battery life, that choosing one is getting harder and harder. But really, who cares? Just a few short years ago, these technological perks we take for granted were mind-blowing. This really is the start of a golden era in portable audio.
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The cool thing about top-of-the-line products and patience is that one benefits the other. Case in point: The new Bowers & Wilkins Series 2 P5 headphone and C5 earphone. Patience is rewarded because B&W has incorporated elements from their P7 headphone into the less expensive P5, improving just about every internal component. The P7’s success comes from driver units that are similar to traditional Hi-Fi speakers. This has now been applied to the P5’s redesigned drivers, resulting in a more open and spacious soundstage, with natural, tightly controlled bass. The P5 Series 2 retains the portability factor, build quality, comfort and price of the original P5.
The new C5 Series 2 in-ear headphone improves on its predecessor in just about every way. Sound quality has been boosted by improvements in small-scale drive unit design, including new 9.2mm dynamic drivers, micro-porous filters and tungsten balanced design for controlled bass, spacious sound and more detail. The new C5 Series 2 also looks better with a new black finish with matching cables. Both the new P5 and C5 have improved Made for iPhone Mic and Remote, with better ergonomics for more control.
The P5 sells for $299.99 US and the C5 sells for $179.99 US. Both are available later in September.
For more info, visit www.bowers-wilkins.com.
A few months ago, I reviewed the very good Focal Spirit Classic and even better Spirit Pro headphones. Focal he now released a newer – and less expensive – version of the original portable Spirit One headphone, the Spirit One S. The Spirit One S – which will replace the Spirit One – is more tuned for noisy environments with reinforced bass and comes with full-size over-ear cups for better noise isolation. Focal states they also improved the mid-range and treble response by using lessons learned from their Spirit Classic and Pro models. The Spirit One S features 40mm hybrid Mylar/Titanium speaker drivers, detachable cable, universal smartphone remote with built-in mic, 6.35mm/3.5mm adaptor, airline connector, carrying bag as well as a rigid case. The new Spirit S is available now and sells for $249.99 US. The Gadgeteer will be reviewing these soon. More info can be found at Focal.com.
Will Bluetooth ever get any respect? It will if Audioengine has anything to say about it. Audioengine – known for dynamite speakers and DACs – have released their first Bluetooth product, the Audioengine B1 Premium Bluetooth Music Receiver. The B1 streams audio from any media player (iTunes, Amarra, Youtube, etc.) and connects to any music system using an analog or digital input. Audioengine wouldn’t settle for standard Bluetooth so they incorporated aptX (a high-quality audio converter), a built-in 24-bit upsampling AKM4396 digital audio converter (DAC) and an external antenna for extended wireless range.
Audioengine claims that the setup is easy and takes only seconds. There is no software to install; just plug and play. The B1 is housed in an aluminum case and visually matches other Audioengine products. The Gadgeteer will do a review soon. The Audioengine B1 sells for $189 US and is available now.
Among all the Bluetooth and desktop speakers I’ve reviewed, I’ve never tested both form factors in one speaker system. The Edifier e25 Luna Eclipse speakers combine the look and stereo separation of a dedicated desktop speaker with the convenience of Bluetooth. Not only that, they look like nothing else either. They even won the 2014 iF Product Design Award.
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Despite the wonderful – and sometimes jawdropping – audio that manufacturers have been able to extract from small, portable Bluetooth speakers, there is still no substitution for size. Physics rules and if you’re going to get a decent amount of bass from any speaker, you need air movement. The more air, the better bass. Yes, some of the smaller speakers can be very impressive in the bass department. But place them next to a larger speaker and their weakness stands out. Which brings us to the Nyne Bass, a wireless Bluetooth speaker that lives up to its name.
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ECOXGEAR is well known for their rugged waterproof speakers and gear, have just released their biggest speaker yet, the ECOSTONE waterproof Bluetooth speaker. ECOXGEAR states that it is answering a demand for a tough speaker that can deliver a bigger sound. The rubberized shockproof casing protects the speaker if accidentally knocked into a pool or overboard from a boat and will even pop back to the surface and float. The ECOSTONE passed the IP68 international waterproofing standard and military grade testing (MIL810G) which means it can withstand anything from being 100% submerged in water to a sandstorm in a desert with temperatures up to 140°F … oh, and still play music. It features 2-3.5” drivers at 12 watts each, a USB charger for smartphones, built-in emergency flashlight, 12-hour battery life and is equipped with detachable mounting options that can attach the speaker to just about anything. That makes it a perfect speaker option for a whole campsite, beach or pool-deck party. The ECOXGEAR ECOSTONE speaker comes in four colors: Black, Orange, Blue and Camo and is available now for $149.
It appears that Samsung has come out swinging in the “Let’s beat Beats” game. Say what you will about Beats audio quality (I do), you cannot argue with their marketing genius. They hold about 60% of the headphone market – which makes them a prime target. Samsung has released two new headphones, an earphone and a portable Bluetooth speaker to counter Beats. The “Level” audio line is appropriately named the Level Over, Level On, Level In and Level Box.
The Level Over is their primo headphone featuring Bluetooth, active noise cancellation with four mics to cancel outside sounds. Also, users can control volume, navigate tracks, pause or stop music, answer and end a call using the side of the headphones. It can be customized using the Samsung Level App to alter the audio. The Level Over sells for $349.99.
The Level On is an on-ear, wired compact headphone with soft cushioning in a foldable ergonomic design for mobile users. The Level On sells for $179.99.
The Level In is – you guessed it – an in-ear, wired headphone that with a three-way speaker system that controls treble, mid-range and deep bass. The Level In sells for $149.99.
The Level Box is a compact Bluetooth speaker that will stream from any Bluetooth device. The design is optimized for noise reduction and echo cancellation, with a built in 15-hour rechargeable battery. Also available is Near-Field Communications (NFC), volume/play/pause buttons, and a HD built in microphone for phone or conference calls. The Level Box sells for $169.99.
All Level products will sync with Samsung’s Milk Music Service for Galaxy devices. Visit Samsung for more information.
Many people who are integrated into the Apple ecosystem – or BORG, as I like to call it – would never think about buying a router from anyone except Apple, no matter how good or cheap another brand may be. I know, because I paid $200 for an Apple Airport Extreme. I wondered if I was doing the right thing until I saw that it took all of 5 minutes to plug in and set up. Actually Apple did most of the work – automatically. All I had to do was sit back and wait. The Airport Extreme has good (not great) range. My backyard studio building is 100 feet away from the AE router in my house. While I don’t rely on it for internet (that’s a buried CAT6 cable), I do use it for iPhone and iPad WiFi signals. Sometimes the signal is strong, sometimes not. Well, QuickerTek has thought about this and has come out with the acHex, an upgrade that adds six external antennas to either a customer’s existing Airport Extreme or a completely new one. QuickerTek states that not only is the wireless faster, but the signal blasts through walls and floors, such as multistory buildings, structures with obstructions, or a basement office. Engineers made it so that the unit can be personalized by replacing the provided antennas with optional high gain or directional antennas to match any unique setting. The prices start at $199 US for a customer-supplied AC Base Station (or Time Capsule) with Hex antenna installed. A QuickerTek-supplied 3 TB Time Capsule is $628 with Hex antenna installed. The BORG is getting stronger.
It was only a matter of time before a sound card company would take their expertise and apply it to a portable speaker. Creative, maker of the famous Sound Blaster card, has come out roaring with the Sound Blaster Roar SR20 speaker. This speaker is appropriately named Roar, not just because it can be loud, but because it has more features than any other speaker I can think of. The Sound Blaster Roar is about the size of a thick hardback book – 2.2 x 7.9 x 4.5 inches, and it weighs 2.4 lbs. The Bose-influenced design is classic, understated, and looks more expensive than it is. Its long feature list includes – try to read this out loud without catching a breath – aptX and AAC Multipoint Bluetooth, Bi-Amplified, five speaker drivers including built-in subwoofer, 8-hour 6000 mAh battery, hands-free calling, smartphone charging, NFC-enabled, USB audio, AUX, TeraBass, MegaStereo enabled, MP3 player with micro SD slot, voice recorder, battery bank, bedtime listening mode, ROAR button, voice recorder, USB Sound Blaster, and siren (yes, a siren). And I’m sure I missed something. The Gadgeteer will do a review soon, so stay tuned. The Sound Blaster Roar SR20 sells direct for $149.99 US. Learn more at Creative.
A year ago, I reviewed the monstrous but wonderful Audioengine A5+ speakers. These behemoths will rattle not only your windows, but the neighbor’s as well — yet still sound good doing it. But let’s be real, unless you have a big desk (I do), the A5+ speakers are just too big and loud for most home offices. Audioengine has solved that bit of a dilemma with the smaller A2+ speakers. Not only are these speakers perfectly sized for desktop use, Audioengine has improved upon their original A2 speaker’s components.
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Whenever I try to explain what a digital audio converter (DAC) does and why it’s a cool thing to have, I almost always get that “deer in headlights” look. Then – if they’re still listening – I tell them the cost of this cool DAC. That’s when the look changes to “are you nuts?” Sheesh, sometimes you just can’t win. No matter, because I got to review the new – and cool – Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS USB DAC/Headphone Amp.
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Do you like to sing along to the radio while in the shower? Now, Braven lets you hear your backing group much louder with the new Mira; a speaker that you can play IN the shower. In fact, it has a built-in hook which allows it to be hung from a curtain rod or shower head. This hook also serves as a kickstand for placement anywhere. The Mira comes with Bluetooth (of course), letting you enjoy music, sports or news and yet keep that smartphone in a dry bedroom away from damaging steam and spray. It comes with a 10 hour rechargeable battery, a built-in noise cancelling microphone for hands free use and has a 3.5 mm AUX port for non-Bluetooth devices. The Mira is IPX5 water-resistant rated, making it safe for kitchen, boat, pool, jacuzzii, and yes, the shower. It comes in black and silver and soon will be offered in light blue, light pink and a primary color-combo option. The Mira sells for $99.99 US and is available now.
For more info visit www.braven.com
In 2013, I reviewed the Nyne NB-200 Bluetooth speaker. I was impressed with the sound relative to its size. Now, because everyone and their uncle make decent Bluetooth accessories, Bluetooth speakers need something extra to stand out. Nyne thinks they have done that with the new BASS speaker. As with similar speakers, the BASS comes with Bluetooth 4.0, NFC pairing, built-in mic for hands-free calling, built-in phone charging via USB, 20 Watts of power, 10 Hrs. playtime, rechargeable battery and auxiliary input. So what, you may ask? Well, the Nyne BASS costs about half what other speakers do with these specs and size. The BASS is made for indoor and outdoor use with a rubberized coating for added protection. It weighs a whopping 6.5 lb and measures 13.5 in. length X 6.25 in. height. This is way bigger than some of the smaller Bluetooth speakers selling for the same price or more. The BASS has 2 active drivers and an active subwoofer with bass port. It’s not called BASS for nothing.
The Nyne BASS comes in black and white and sells for $150 US. It’s available now. Visit Nyne for more info.
I’ve reviewed a few really good and affordable earphones from NuForce for The Gadgeteer. NuForce is somewhat of a paradox in the audio world. They make quite good (and quite expensive) home audio gear, yet their personal products have been quite affordable – but still quite good. That’s especially true regarding their earphones and headphones. That may be about to change… kinda. NuForce has just released their first armature-based earphone, the Primo 8. However, they didn’t make an entry model to see if it could be done successfully. No, NuForce leap-frogged right to the top and made an audiophile-quality, four proprietary balanced armature speaker earphone: Two speakers for bass, one for midrange and one for treble. The Primo 8 can reach extremely low frequencies for natural sounding bass. Their crossover design (necessary when combining multiple speakers in one unit) is a patent-pending three-way phase-coherent approach. NuForce claims that this results in a natural, three-dimensional soundstage, lightning-fast transients and crystalline transparency. Phase coherence simply means that the four speakers work together as one. NuForce states that this produces an audible improvement. In other words; the Primo 8 should sound fantastic. Hopefully, The Gadgeteer can do a review soon.
The four speakers are housed in a cobalt-blue shell with a detachable copper/silver/kevlar cord that wraps behind the ear which helps the earphone stay in place. The Primo 8 earphones are available now and sell for $499 US. While not as affordable as NuForce’s other earphones, the Primo 8’s price makes sense when compared against other four-speaker earphones, especially when factoring in the patent-pending phase-coherent design.
In the past few years, I have reviewed many gadgets for the Gadgeteer, mostly involving audio. I just love headphones and speakers, so I usually stick to that. While I may be more discerning than many regarding audio quality, I don’t consider myself an audiophile and I try not to write like one. That’s not our audience. Plus there are many excellent audiophile sites on the web. When I do review a high-end audio product, I approach it as a regular person and not a sound-snob. Such is the case with the Fiio X3 digital music player.
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As the earphone market has grown substantially over the past few years, its technology has mostly split into two camps – dynamic speakers vs armature speakers. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages. DUNU, a Chinese company who started out making earphones for other companies, make and sell both dynamic and armature models. Their model choices are extensive in many price ranges. Now, they’ve taken this knowledge and combined both dynamic and armature speakers into a hybrid design – the DN-1000. It’s been done before, but this is DUNU’s first attempt and it’s interesting because of their extensive experience in both the dynamic and armature worlds.
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I have reviewed every V-MODA headphone beginning with the original Crossfade LP and each one has been a significant improvement over the previous version. The new V-MODA XS will replace the now-discontinued on-ear Crossfade M-80. The XS betters the M-80 with improved sound, military-spec (MIL-STD-810G) build quality and V–MODA’s famous, patented CliqFold Hinge. The XS continues the V-MODA look: lots of metal with leather-covered memory foam. The XS folds into an extreme, compact shape which should make it easy to pack into a backpack or messenger bag for commuting. Read More →
Recently, Julie asked for us to show our desks and what’s on them. With mine, there is not much to tell. I’m an art director by day and freelancer by night, so my desk is usually strewn with all kinds of junk. Add to that my passion for all things audio, and I keep pretty busy. I use three monitors and am completely spoiled by all that screen real estate. In the middle is a new 27” iMac that blows away my older MacPro tower. It’s extremely fast and quiet. On the shelf above are a pair of small Audioengine A2+ speakers that I will be reviewing soon. The desk is rather large – it originally was an electrical workbench used by the home’s previous owner. I put Formica on top and – voila! – instant desk! The size allows me to spread stuff out. Read More →
This is getting old. It seems like every week Braven is releasing a new portable Bluetooth speaker. A few weeks ago, they released the large, rugged and water-resistant BRV-X Bluetooth speaker. Think of it as a super-sized BRV-1 that was recently reviewed by Steve Holt for The Gadgeteer. That speaker sounded good, came encased in a rubberized exoskeleton, and was made for active lifestyles. The BRV-X is all that on a larger scale. Even its name sounds tough and ready to rumble. Speaking of rumble, the BRV-X should have plenty of that if it exhibits Braven’s knack for making a speaker sound bigger and bassier than its size would indicate. Read More →
Recently, I reviewed the Just Mobile HeadStand Headphone Hanger. It was my introduction to the minimalist design ethos of an accessory company whose products could have been made by Apple themselves. They are that beautiful. Just Mobile sent me their AluDisc 360-degree pedestal for iMac for review.
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Edifier’s speakers are known for their iconic looks as much as their sound. The newly released Luna Eclipse e25 Bluetooth speakers are sure to continue that perception, because no other speakers look like them. They’ve even been awarded the prestigious 2014 iF Design Award. The egg shaped, Daft Punk helmet lookalikes feature a whopping 74 watts of power, 2.0 Bluetooth, touch-sensitive controls and remote. That 74 watts drives a 3 inch bass speaker and a 19mm silk tweeter in each cabinet. There are also two 2 X 3 inch passive radiators per speaker that allow for increased air movement resulting in deeper bass. In addition to Bluetooth, they can be hard wired to any source via a mini plug AUX connector. The Eclipse speakers measure 4.8” x 8.35” x 8.74”, weigh 8 lbs. and come in three colors: Black, white and red. The selling price is $199.99 US/CAD and are available now. Visit Edifier for more info.
The Gadgeteer will be reviewing these beauties soon.
A couple of years ago, Focal – known for high-end speakers – came out with their first headphone, the Spirit One and it became an instant hit with the headphone crowd. While the Spirit One wasn’t cheap, it was portable, well made and sounded great. Focal has upped the ante with two new not-so portable models that go in different directions aesthetically and aurally. Focal states that the closed back, circum-aural (covers the ears) Classic and Professional were designed to remain comfortable over extended periods of time with memory foam ear pads and headband. The Spirit Professional is geared towards – you guessed it – the pro in the recording studio. The Pro was tuned to have total control of the audio band for precise and detailed sound reproduction, without distortion. Its design features a shock- and scratch-resistant textured black finish. The light chocolate-colored and bronze audiophile Classic headphone was tuned for listening at home with extended low end, detailed mid-range and linear top end for an open sound. The Classic is not as isolating as the Pro, but Focal says it’s not needed since they were designed for a quieter home environment without the need to mask surrounding noise. This quiet tuning also allows the Classic to avoid any boosted bass inherent in headphones made for commuting. The Focal Professional sells for $349 US and the Classic sells for $399 US. Both are available now and will be reviewed on The Gadgeteer soon. Stay tuned.